Tips for avoiding the crowds on summer trips

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“A lot of people want to do the same thing at the same time this summer,” says Stan Caldwell, who teaches transportation and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

If you’ve ever gone on vacation, you know he’s right. If not, there is still time to plan your trip defensively.

So how do you avoid the mass of humanity at the height of the busiest summer travel season in a generation? Let’s start with the obvious pro tip for finding some space on vacation: go where there are no crowds.

“Plan travel during off-peak hours,” says Caldwell. “Visit attractions during unpopular times.”

What does this mean for summer travelers?

“Beaches are the most popular type of destination in the summer,” says Alison Kwong, spokesperson for vacation rental site Vrbo. “Demand for beach vacation homes in the Northeast and Southeast is high, so an unexpected alternative may be to head to a mountain destination, like Breckenridge or Park City when it’s not the ski season.”

But the crowd is everywhere – at the airport, on the plane, in the hotel lobby. And them?

If you can afford it, you can pay to avoid crowded check-in areas. You can hire a VIP welcome at the airport to speed up check-in and customs formalities. On a site such as Global Airport Concierge, you can book an airport meet and greet service starting at $75.

Sylvia Lebovitch, luxury travel consultant at Ovation Network, also recommends a private airport suite available at Los Angeles International Airport. “It has separate security areas and check-ins, so you never have to mingle with other travellers,” she says. “It’s the closest thing to a private flight.”

Additionally, many luxury hotels now offer advance check-ins to avoid the appearance of a long lobby line. Or you can work with your travel agent to handle check-in details before you arrive. Your agent will send you your credit card and passport information ahead of time, so you only need to collect your room keys.

What about crowds at major attractions, such as historic sites, museums, and theme parks?

One strategy is to book a private tour in advance. Larissa Lowthorp, a film producer from Los Angeles, likes to find a tour on sites like Viator.com. “A tour guide has private arrangements with venues or agreements for out-of-hours tours,” she says. This allows him to avoid long queues and crowds.

But nothing prepares you better for the wave of summer crowds than a Walt Disney World Annual Pass. As a resident of Florida for 12 years, most of it spent in Orlando, I quickly learned that you could avoid the long lines by showing up before the park opened.

While the tourists slept or enjoyed their all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets, I got my young children out of bed early and walked to the gates of the Magic Kingdom as they opened.

The reward: no queues or crowds, even on the busiest days. By the time most visitors were arriving, my family and I were heading to the turnstiles and back to the parking lot.

Is joining a loyalty program useful? It’s possible, says Craig Strickler, chief executive of Valor Hospitality Partners, a hotel management company. “Joining the frequent flyer program of the airline you’re flying with, the hotel you’re staying at, or even the car rental company you’re using gives you benefits you might not otherwise receive,” says -he.

These include upgrading to a better seat or hotel room if available or using a preferred – and sometimes shorter – check-in line.

But there is a catch. You have to participate in the program to reap the benefits, which means spending money with the company. You might pay more for your trip over time. In addition, you will receive many unsolicited offers from the company and its partners.

“Remember there’s always the unsubscribe option at the bottom of the email,” Strickler says.

Sometimes the best way to avoid crowds is to challenge conventional wisdom. That’s the advice of blues guitarist Michael “Big Mike” Aguirre, who moved from St. Louis to Anguilla at the start of the pandemic. He says there are benefits to visiting the island at times when no one else wants to.

You won’t have to worry about long queues at a restaurant or crowded beaches this time of year. That’s because it’s low season in the Caribbean: it’s hot and rainy, and the region’s hurricane season runs from June to November. Yes, it’s a bit risky, but nothing a good travel insurance policy will cover.

“A less crowded destination offers a more relaxed pace and a more immersive experience,” says Aguirre.

There is one last option, which is not to travel at all. Instead, postpone your vacation until the kids are back in school. This is perhaps my favorite strategy for avoiding crowds. You can go anywhere in early September, and it won’t matter. Everyone will then be gone. Prices will drop, and the travelers you meet on the way will be relaxed again.

Isn’t that how travel should always be?

Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information on travel health advisories can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and on the CDC’s travel health advisories webpage.

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